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SAINT-ETIENNE, France (AP) — Rugby Australia has doubled down on backing coach Eddie Jones while the Wallabies are on the brink of missing the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals for the first time.
CEO Phil Waugh also criticized Jones for partly excusing their results as preparation for the 2027 Rugby World Cup, which Australia will stage.
“We're committed to Eddie in the commitment we made to him earlier in the year,” Waugh said after Australia completed the pool stage by beating Portugal 34-14 on Sunday.
“I've been pretty forthright around the fact we are committed to Eddie and he probably looks at the campaign and is bitterly disappointed about his performance and the Wallabies' performance. It's a pretty challenging world being a coach and I can understand that.”
Jones was contracted to the end of the 2027 Rugby World Cup.
He was criticized before coming to France after picking a young squad — 25 of the 33-man squad were going to their first Rugby World Cup — and carrying injured players but not veterans such as Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper.
He insisted the Wallabies could win the Rugby World Cup even after losing to Fiji for the first time in 69 years. But then they lost to Wales 40-6, their heaviest defeat in Rugby World Cup history and worst loss to Wales.
On the eve of the Wales game, Australia media reported Jones interviewed for his old Japan coach job which will become vacant after the tournament. Jones denied the reports and Waugh said at the time he took Jones by his word, and reiterated that.
“Eddie has made his comments to me that he is committed (to Australia),” Waugh said. “I'm not going to find out where conversations are occurring. I take Eddie for his word and he has told us there is nothing to it.”
The Wallabies' quarterfinal hopes are hanging by a slim thread. Fiji will knock them out on Sunday if they beat Portugal, or take one point at least. The Wallabies have to stay in France, at least until they know the outcome on Sunday night.
Dave Rennie, the Wallabies coach for three years, was fired in January with a 38% winning record so that Rugby Australia could rehire Jones, who was dismissed by England in December. The union hoped Jones could engineer one of his quick turnarounds in time for the Rugby World Cup.
But he's won only two of nine tests this year, beating Georgia and Portugal at the Rugby World Cup, and losing to Fiji and every tier one team he's met.
“I think selection is something that is always debatable and hindsight is a wonderful thing,” Waugh said. "The performances certainly weren't at a level they needed to be when you come to a World Cup.
"We’ll make an assessment of the campaign but our intent is to continue on the path we are on. This is not about chopping and changing coaches.
“There's a lot that has probably been declining with Australian rugby for some time, so I think it's a result of a period where we are slipping more and more. This campaign is a good example of the decline.”
Jones has said he deliberately picked a young squad because he wanted to rebuild in France rather than after the tournament, but Waugh said he didn’t want to hear about 2027 in the 2023 tournament.
“I think you come to a World Cup looking to win, you don't go looking to win the 2027 World Cup when you're going to the 2023 World Cup,” Waugh said.
"A lot of people spent a lot of money to come over here and support the Wallabies and they came here hoping to win the World Cup and that was certainly our expectation or our commitment.
"I'd much prefer to talk about the disappointment of not performing to where we'd like rather than the excuses that we're building for 2027, because I just don't think that washes and that's not good enough.
“I think it's been no lack of desire and commitment from the Wallabies. It's just we haven’t been good enough.”
AP Rugby World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby